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An unfriendly chap

Jeff Lacy's growing intensity has him becoming the boxer that British fans love to hate.

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published March 4, 2006


MANCHESTER, England - They cheered Diego Corrales, and showered Winky Wright with adulation.

Jeff Lacy, they booed.

Smart lot, those British boxing fans.

It didn't matter that Lacy had yet to sign a deal to meet Wales star hero Joe Calzaghe, or that he was still months away from even fighting Robin Reid and Scott Pemberton.

The 20,000 fans crammed into the M.E.N. Arena in June to watch Ricky Hatton beat Kostya Tyszu knew it was inevitable.

"They introduced us before the fight, and they booed because they knew I was coming for their man," Lacy said. "They knew we were on a collision course."

Tonight, the crash will be heard around the world.

In the same arena where he was roundly jeered, Lacy, the IBF super-middleweight champion, will meet WBO champ Joe Calzaghe in one of the most anticipated fights of the year.

The fight will begin around 2:30 a.m. Manchester time. In the United States, it will be televised live by Showtime as part of a card beginning at 9 p.m. EST.

Depending on what side of the pond you live, it will be the biggest fight in the division since Americans Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney fought in 1994, or British legend Nigel Benn and Gerald McClellan battled to a tragic conclusion in 1995.

While promoter Gary Shaw has predicted Lacy will take Manchester by storm, the British media took their turn at the American challenger in Friday's reports, adding to his already surly mood.

Based on a handful of questions at Thursday's news conference and staredown, this seems to be what they have determined: Lacy is disrespectful, not the nice guy he is made out to be, petulant for skipping a photo shoot, struggling to make weight and pathetically trying to curry British favor with stunts like wearing the English national soccer jersey to a news conference.

And Calzaghe tossed another log on the fire by saying that Lacy appeared nervous and ready to crack.

"Oh, really?" an annoyed Lacy said.

"I can say this: the anticipation of this fight has really gotten me on edge, really focused," he added, his voice rising. "If anybody thinks it's gotten me on edge it's because I'm ready and I'm tired of talking. I'm ready to fight.

"Cracking under pressure? No. I'm all about business."

Lacy is a slight 11-to-10 favorite to end Calzaghe's eight-year reign atop the division. The Welshman will be making his 18th title defense, while Lacy defends his IBF title for just a sixth time.

Despite a 40-0 record, Calzaghe's story hasn't gained traction this week, with more interest directed at Lacy. A 2000 Olympian, he is seen as a youthful determined challenger with prodigious power (17 knockouts in 21 wins) and the steepest test ever for Calzaghe, who has been criticized for his lack of a career-defining fight.

Enzo Calzaghe, Joe's father and trainer, has barely been able to contain himself when questioned about the challenge facing his son, launching into long diatribes about overrated American fighters.

"Why all this euphoria?" he asked. "We saw him fight on Joe's undercard (in 2004), and all of a sudden he's boxing Robin Reid, who is a dead squid. Then he fights a 40-year-old man, Scott Pemberton. So? Now this is supposed to be Joe's defining fight? Bollocks. (Lacy's) won one title and defended it a few times. What makes him so special?"

Calzaghe, 33, is boxing's longest reigning champion, winning his WBO belt in 1997. He is slick and regarded by most as the better boxer, with the 28-year-old Lacy getting the nod as the stronger fighter.

But promoter Frank Warren said the so-called experts are painting too simple a picture.

While Calzaghe has recorded lopsided unanimous decision victories since his last close fight in 1999 against Reid, he also has been more than willing to stand flat-footed and war with bigger punchers like Omar Sheika and Byron Mitchell.

Calzaghe blew Sheika out in five rounds in 2000; Mitchell knocked Calzaghe down in the second round of their 2003 fight, with the Welsh champ storming back to stop Mitchell the same round.

That style would suit Lacy, who prefers a close-quarters brawl and is expected to chase Calzaghe down tonight. But since reuniting with trainer Dan Birmingham, he has shown more boxing skill, better defense and an improving jab.

"That's dead right," Warren said. "He's not a one-dimensional fighter, with just a right and left hook. He's better than that. And Joe is a puncher. Ask Byron Mitchell. Ask Omar Sheika, who had to be saved by the ref. Trust me, Joe's a good puncher. It should be a cracking fight."

That's one word for it. Lacy says "explosive."

On his way out Friday, he shared this bit of advice for fans back home:

"Don't blink."